Monthly Archives: January 2016

Review ~ About the dark corners of the mind.

I have recently wandered into the series “Mr. Robot.” It is an award winning series and “everybody is talking about it.” The trailers intrigued me, after all, I know something about financial markets and IT. At least the subject matter would be of interest. It is rated L for Language. I have to say there should also be some trigger warnings or something about sexual content. Let’s just say things get intense.

Selected because - you have to watch your back...

Selected because – you have to watch your back…

I am watching the catch-up versions so there is an opportunity to catch the creator’s thoughts about each episode as you move through the story. However, catch-up viewing (read binging) does not usually allow time for reflection, so some plot twists do catch you unawares. If I had to say whether or not I “liked” the series, I’m not sure I could answer. But, then, one doesn’t always have to like something to find some value in it. So, here we are. Let’s explore the ambiguity.

The premise of the show introduces what we might call an anti-hero. In some minds he would be the avenging angel, in some the evil clown that destroys the world as we know it. You don’t know just right away, who the real Mr. Robot is. But it does become clear. The season ends with a successful hack that destroys world markets. No debt, no records, no way to retrieve any of it. It is a global revolution that vaporizes trillions of dollars of financial assets (and debt) overnight. I think one of the things that keeps me intrigued enough to check out season two is how the show’s creator handles the real impact of such an event. As terrific as it sounds to wake up tomorrow with no debt, there are very real economic consequences to such an event; consequences that might not work out as planned. The seed of that thought is in the story line. And, again, having watched the mental games written into this series – did it really happen? So, yes, I will probably, for a bit more at least, continue to watch.

There is also the “intense” part. And this is the part that causes me to reserve judgement on the series as a whole. It is either a work of art, or a cheap attempt to manipulate. Sex, in this film, is a function of power. Certain body parts do not make it on screen, but little is left to the imagination. No, I’m not a prude, but the context of these scenes is very edgy and says volumes about the characters involved. What interests me far more is the development of those characters, most specifically the main character.

This is what kept me watching. If you have not seen the first season this will be a spoiler, but because of the amount of time I have spent studying how the human mind works – especially the very intelligent human mind – this story would not let me go.

Elliot is a brilliant engineer that works for an IT security firm. At night he hacks into people’s lives, sometimes confronting them and “encouraging” a change of perspectives. It doesn’t appear that he does this for financial gain – it is usually to stop a crime, protect someone he cares about, or to live vicariously. We learn, as the story progresses, that Evil Corp (a name Elliot assigns it and which has a logo blatantly reminiscent of Enron) was responsible for the death of his father and a friend’s mother. A leak that was more expensive to clean up than to pay off in court. But this isn’t entirely about revenge. We are in Elliot’s head. We are his special friend, the one he goes to when things are not clear. When he needs to say what he is really thinking.

There is great debate on the internet about whether or not Elliot is schizophrenic or subject to some other disorder such a Social Anxiety Disorder. IMDb goes with SAD. Without the benefit of this debate, I was pretty certain of schizophrenia. Not that most of the other characters are all that mentally healthy, (Tyrell is a sociopath) but Elliot is the star. Late in the season it is made clear (if you haven’t already figured it out) that Elliot is Mr. Robot. He is the leader of the group programming a massive hack on financial markets and plotting and negotiating with other hacker groups to make sure that backups are not available to anyone, anywhere. To Elliot, Mr. Robot is his father – even though he does not recognize the illusion as his father. His dead father. And the segment where he recognizes his sister, and realizes that his illusion of Mr. Robot is his father, would be traumatic to anyone who has experienced this issue. The offhand references to his medications and his visits to the therapist are clues, but we have yet to find out why all of this is court ordered.

If it is, indeed, the creator’s intent to portray this individual as a schizophrenic genius – he nailed it. That is the part that is both troubling and intriguing. The layers of mental gaming in this show are intricate, extremely well written, and unsettling. I’ve lived in that world where someone I knew and loved created realities that were every bit as real in his mind as yours are to you. I have learned, and observed, that the mind is an amazing thing. I am hoping that the creators of this show are seeking for that moment when reality collides with the illusion, and the focal point must sort out the chaos. It appears so at this point. So, I continue to watch.

Has anyone else among my friends ventured into this dark, and yet revealing, world? What is our reality, and how much is it truly shared?

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two)

David Bowie And Thoughts On Life

From a dear friend of mine who, quite frankly, “nailed it.”

countingducks

As we all know, unless we are hiding in a cave somewhere pretending to be a pot of jam, David Bowie died recently. He was not, to be honest, my favourite musician of all time but I love some of his music and he was an undeniably talented man who interacted with the world around him almost until his last breath: something I admire deeply. He reminds me of the urgent, telling words of Dylan Thomas,

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

On many levels,  Bowie was a deeply private and unknowable character and his cremation pretty much took place in secret, and in as unmarked a manner as he could manage, but his desire to understand, create and communicate through music was undimmed almost until his last breath. He reminded…

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Reflections ~ Where has my country gone?

‘Tis the season. We are heading into the last lap of an election season. A sport that, in America, seems to go on forever. Costing billions and sometimes accomplishing no more than we might if we chose Miss. Universe to lead the country. In the interest of keeping up my new persona of activist, this blog grew out of what was going to be a simple Facebook post. It was inspired by this wonderful video.

Dictator

I looked up the original speech given by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, a politically sensitive film made while Hitler was rising to power and people were not really certain of how to react, or weren’t paying attention at all. By the time it was released, there was a very different attitude. Here is the speech as reproduced on the Charlie Chaplin – Official Website.

Things changed dramatically for this country. A transition that occurred in mid century led us to where we are today. Not just in our country, but in many nations. We are at a point in human history when we can, quite realistically, destroy all that is human, and the very globe on which we live. This is not the destiny we were created to fulfill. This is true whether you believe that creation originates with a superior intelligence or as a fact of a creating, evolving universe.

It saddens me that the country I was born in is no longer that country. I cry every time I see our flag, hear our anthem, and watch as our country tears itself apart. A video clip I ran across some time ago explains some of the reasons why we are no longer who we were, and something of the arrogant delusion we accept as gospel truth. Language warning.

As given by one of the characters in the Aaron Sorkin production, The Newsroom, the statistics are shattering. As of the airing of this episode of the series (2012), this is where we stood.

“We are 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead in three categories – number of incarcerated citizens per capital, number of adults who believe in angels, and defense spending.”

The Business Insider added a few more, as well as support for some of the statistics mentioned above in their article found here.  

And I’ll add one of my own. One of the reasons that our economy was strong and we were a country of innovation and invention was that our universities were open to the world. The best and the brightest from every corner of the globe traveled to study in our schools and contribute to our research. Not anymore. After 9-11 the hurdles for entering the country on a student visa became so onerous that we lost one of our greatest assets: the ability to educate the best and reap the benefits.

But we used to be great, really great. (from The Newsroom clip)

“We stood up for what was right, we fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured disease, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy.”

 

But, we changed. Now, even in the process of electing our officials, we are at each other’s throats. Even when we do arrive at some selection, the level of disrespect for our leaders is abysmal. And dangerous. A world is watching—a world we have been preaching to for decades. Telling them they must become free and elect officials and adhere to a code of law. Statistics quoted by Sorkin include that out of 207 countries in the world, 180 are considered free. Having elections, a free press, and some adherence to human rights. We are beating our chests soundlessly and the whole world is learning that the Emperor does indeed have no clothes.

Across the globe, nations are recognizing the sins of their past and working hard to make viable restitution for slavery, and the genocide of indigenous peoples. In the U.S. we fight those options tooth and nail and continue to embed those legacies in our treatment of “people not like us.” Arrogance. Delusion. Fear. It is no longer a war against Christianity, Islam or anyone other identifiable label – it is a war against humanity.

This is not who we are. It is not who we were meant to be. Not as citizens of what was once a great country; and not as members of homo sapiens.

Now is the time to hold our leaders accountable. To let them know that we will not allow intolerance to rule. To let them know we are not eternal warriors looking for the next head to hang on the city gates. Now is the time seek a solution that is intelligent, creative, and builds for a future worthy of who we are.

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Reflections ~ Nothing is ever Black or White

New Year’s Eve, 2015. The end of a year with so many major changes in my life it is a bit like starting over. At my age that can be a crazy mix of invigorating and frightening. At this point I am well on the way to completing a manuscript I have been actively working on for around three years, using material I have gathered for decades. There is much work to follow, editing, graphics, covers, credits, permissions and all of the steps to getting a book ready for the market. It is good, however, to be this close.

There are other things. I am learning, day by day, to be “me” rather than “us,” even though so much of my husband permeates my home and my heart. I am getting settled into a new home with all the attendant worries and hopes; no longer dependent on a landlord to “fix stuff,” but fully responsible for setting priorities and sorting out the best way to accomplish end goals. A move, from a busy metropolitan center to a clump of smaller, coastal towns. A sorting out of where I am with my interests and how I can best contribute to their success. A year so full, and yet I found time to become more adamant, more vocal, on things that mean so much to me.

New Year’s Eve I stayed home. Dealing with the last vestiges of a rather rough cold, I turned down an invitation and curled up on my couch to look for a couple of free movies to fill the evening. And I came upon a 2014 movie staring Reese Witherspoon called, The Good Lie. While researching the film for this blog I found that, as in all things related to the heart, things are not black and white.

the-good-lie-poster

 

 

 

“Miracles are made by people who refuse to stop believing.”

 

 

 

In broad strokes, it is a movie about the children of the Sudan who were orphaned by the civil war, some of whom were pressed in to military service and escaped. Tens of thousands of these refugees became part of the growing “city” of Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. Thousands of children walked for miles (as far as 1,000) to reach relative safety in first Ethiopia and then Kenya. Once they arrived, they spent years, if not decades, waiting for someplace else to be. A few of the stars of this movie are refugees or the children of refugees. The scenes and stories from the film are more than acting for them; it is their story.

The program that was put in place to provide refugee status in the US had many restrictions. Immigrants had to find jobs fairly quickly, and the girls had to be placed with families. All of them required sponsors and many churches and faith-based initiatives took the challenge. They arrived with little knowledge of the culture and a reasonable understanding of English. Many of them were devout Christians with an African flavor of worship. It was anything but easy. The title of the movie comes from a class assignment in an evening English class, the reading of Huckleberry Finn. The Good Lie, is a point in the story when Huck lies about the status of Jim; because he would rather his friend be safe than to collect the reward for a runaway slave. To save his friend he lied. If I tell you more I will spoil the movie.

That program was shut down after 9-11. In fact, even those refugees that were in country were unable to move across state lines because they came from a terrorist state. Good ol’ American ingenuity – blaming the victims for the crime. And, that is where things get messy. Some of the story line was derived from background and interviews provided by refugees in the Atlanta, Georgia area. In the process of providing that information, they claim they were promised co-authorship of the movie and a suit is now in place against the producers. As of early 2015 it was still an active court case.

The film does provide access to a foundation called TheGoodLieFoundation. I was not able to find a lot of information about how much of their proceeds go to helping those still in Kenya or those who have found a place to live elsewhere. It does appear that they partner with UNICEF. I was able to find that the population of the Kakuma camp is now over 100,000 displaced persons. Due to the war, the life blood of these peoples, agriculture, cannot be pursued. That is building to humanitarian catastrophe of national proportions.

So, what is the point of my meanderings? Whatever challenges I have faced in the past year, or even throughout my life, I have learned that the only answer to disaster, grief, and evil itself is true concern for my fellow beings and the desire to rebuild. We have a world filled with people in need, people who are suffering, people who need so little – and we have so much. Including a great deal of fear. We are certain that every unknown is out to destroy us– every starving child is out to steal from us. Certain, that if we welcome those in need, somewhere in that group is someone out to murder us in our sleep. So much for “God will protect us.”

It is a very dangerous world and there are people who would like nothing more than to see us, or any number of other boogeymen, in a smoldering heap. I am here to tell you that does not matter. Should we take reasonable precautions to protect ourselves? Most certainly. Should those precautions kick the needy to side of the road? Absolutely not. Whether or not you follow the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, I ask that you do one thing. Make a commitment be part of the solution. Do not throw money at the problems of the world unless you first check out where, exactly, it is going. But more than that, be the bright spot. Smile more often. Offer a helping hand in some way to someone with whatever you can give, even if it is only time. Time is rather precious, you know. We only have so much of it.

I leave you with an African proverb: To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.

Be the change you want to see.

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